Effective Leadership By Mick Ukleja
A Changing Of The Guard: Transitioning Millennials Into The Workforce
September 25, 2012 - “Why would I have to do what my boss asks me to do?” The student who asked this question of his friend was quite serious. Though it seems incredulous, with some thought, that question is not so easy to answer. The Millennial’s sincere curiosity wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. Yet the perception from most people who hear this question would be quite the opposite. The answer should be more than, “because they are the boss.”
In the workforce, there are 40 million Millennials (26 percent of the workforce) with 40 million more on the way. The hard truth is: to get the results you want, you’ll have to give Millennials what they want.
Unfortunately, perceived attitudes of this younger generation often annoy managers and distract them from what’s important. That dilemma creates the danger that the incredible talent of this emerging generation will remain untapped. Instead, they need to be challenged to take on some of the world’s most critical issues and be instrumental in solving them. Rather than vilify Millennials, they need to be engaged.
That cannot happen without understanding who the Millennials are. Of Millennials, 90 percent say they have a close relationship with their parents. These parents are very invested in their kids’ lives. “American Idol” engages 30 million generationally diverse families who bond with each other around the plasma screen. Millennials have values congruent with their parents, whereas Boomers rebelled against their parents.
With regard to technology, Milliennials have ianything (i.e. iPhone, iPad, iTouch, etc.). You name it, they’ll get it. Some GenXers are able users. But most Millennials are turbo-users. As toddlers, their favorite mouse wasn’t “Mickey.” It was the one on the desk next to their computer.
Millennials have been team players throughout their childhood. In constant contact with others, they have an enormous capacity to work together. Teamwork is the nature of the future workforce, and Millennials are up to the task. For an idea of what the workplace of the future will look like, Rob Carter, chief information officer at FedEx, suggests observing the online game World of Warcraft. In this game, teams embark on fast-paced quests, which involve a complicated series of obstacles. The team leader is the one who contributes the most. When someone else steps up to contribute more, that individual becomes the leader. This game is intensely collaborative, constantly demanding and often surprising. Carter explains, “It takes exactly the same skill set people will need more of in the future to collaborate on work projects, and kids are already doing it” (Anne Fisher, “The Future of Work,” Time, May 25, 2009. Available from http://www.time.com.)
For Millennials work is a state of mind, not a place to be.
The downside is that many Millennials have an inflated opinion of themselves. They often seem overconfident, especially with their “limited experience.” That’s why Millennials need instant and ongoing feedback. And, they need to be challenged.
So how do you keep them engaged? Millennials need structure – give it to them, but allow their imprint. Ask for their ideas and, when possible, use them. If they make a mistake, and they will, don’t chastise them. A better way is to ask for their feedback, “What did you learn from this?” Let them discover how to solve the problem.
Managers have a great opportunity to mold these young talented lives – but not without the type of understanding that leads to engagement. As Stephen Covey would say, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”
The traditional way job candidates are questioned in employment interviews is not the best approach with Millennials. Asking them where they see themselves in five years is irrelevant to them, because they are unsure where they’ll be in six months. It’s more effective to ask questions about how they like to perform tasks, what they find motivating and for what greater purpose they want to work.
Feedback should be based on performance, not just for showing up. The feedback they received while growing up was not always connected to something of substance. Now it needs to be. Above all else, be authentic. Celebrity is the enemy of authenticity. Positional authority and titles tend to detract from a Millennial’s perception of authenticity. To this generation de-elevating positional authority is not a sign of disrespect. Instead, informality is a sign of respect. Trust that and make them feel important. Maya Angelou said it beautifully – “I’ve learned that people forget what you’ve said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Give Millennials what they need to feel good – so you can tap into their incredible potential to reap results now and in the years ahead.
(Mick Ukleja is a consultant, author, coach, keynote speaker and president of LeadershipTraq, a leadership consulting firm. His clients have included Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit organizations. Check his weekly blog at www.leadershiptraq.com.)